A high school principal in Nicosia is facing a disciplinary probe after he reportedly expelled a female student for wearing a hijab.
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Students at a state high school in Strovolos were up in arms on first day of class on Friday over an incident when the headmaster asked a female student to walk out of the school and remove her headscarf before coming back.
The school principal told Kathimerini that he was simply following the rules, but the superintendent of secondary education says there were no such rules
According to Kathimerini Cyprus, the principal was heard saying that his school was “not a place for Taliban sympathizers or nuns” as he was sending the student away, described by classmates as a model student.
The student, reportedly a refugee from Syria, had attended the same school in the two previous years, while according to some of her classmates, she never got into trouble because of her attire or her religion.
But the school principal, Loizos Sepos, told Kathimerini that he was simply following the rules.
“I only told her to remove anything she had on her head, I have no problem with her religion whatever that may be. I acted based on the rules set by the Education ministry, which call for students to leave their heads uncovered,” Sepos said.
Superintendent says no such rules
But the superintendent of secondary education, Kyprianos Louis, said there were no such rules.
“Our schools are multicultural and school principals were not given any instructions to discriminate against students based on school dress code,” Louis said.
According to the school principal, the father of the student went to the school where Sepos told him that if he had a complaint he could take it up with the ministry.
“I maintain law and order, I have nothing else to say,” Sepos added.
Students at the school reportedly said their classmate had just arrived on school grounds in the morning when she was immediately confronted by the principal, who told her that students were not allowed to wear hijabs.
According to some reports, students also protested against Sepos by gathering at the school yard and calling their principal “racist, dictator, and a Nazi.” A number of her classmates also said the girl and her father were prepared to launch a formal complaint.
Parents in support of student protest
CNA also reported that organized parents were in support of the actions of the students who stood by their classmate, issuing a statement saying state laws and school regulations protect the right of people to observe their own religious beliefs.
“Such behaviour ought to be condemned, not taught by a school principal,” a statement said.
Louis said education policy is set by the ministry in a very specific and deliberate way. He also said this behaviour was an act by a single person, the principal at the specific school, adding that “we will investigate the matter right away.”
Ombudswoman Maria Stylianou-Lottides, who has weighed in on the issue, said her office initiated an independent investigation. Her staff are charged with probing matters such as discrimination, equality, human rights and freedom and reporting findings for further public scrutiny.